February 11, 2008
The number of prisoners fleeing the troubled open estate in Tayside and remaining at large was branded “incomprehensible” by a senior politician last night.
The Scottish Government found itself the subject of renewed criticism over the management of Castle Huntly in the Carse of Gowrie and Noranside in Angus, and the assessment of prisoners being transferred to open conditions.
Tories highlighted the offending pasts of escapees, describing some of the six currently unaccounted for as “dangerous criminals.”
First Minister Alex Salmond acknowledged that absconding levels were still too high—although he predicted a drop in 2007/08 compared with the previous year.
In a letter to the Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie, Mr Salmond gave details of the inquiries being carried out following the case of Robert Foye, who raped a schoolgirl while on the run from Castle Huntly.
“The Scottish Prison Service always carries out a review of every prisoner who absconds when they are returned to custody, to identify any lessons that can be learned,” he said.
“I have asked them to review this case again urgently, in light of the guilty plea by Robert Foye at Glasgow Sheriff Court.
“The SPS will also undertake a wider review of policy on admission to the open estate and management of prisoners there, taking into consideration security arrangements at Castle Huntly and the assessment of prisoners who are transferred there.”
The SPS has been asked to make the outcome of its review public at the earliest opportunity.
It’s understood that should happen before the end of the month.
According to latest figures obtained by the Tories there have been 60 absconds so far in 2007/08. The final total is expected to be down on the record 79 cases during the previous year.
Mr Salmond said, “Absconds as a percentage of the average daily population have remained fairly static over the past few years, at a time when numbers progressing through the open prisons have substantially increased.
“This year the number of absconds is set to decline but is still at too high a level. The number of prisoners who continue to be at large having absconded from the open estate is six.”
They include offenders serving time for attempted murder, causing death by dangerous driving and contravening the misuse of drugs act. One absconder hasn’t been seen for just over three years.
Ms Goldie said, “The public will quite rightly find it incomprehensible why so many prisoners are able to escape from our jails and stay at large.
“In particular our open prisons have sadly gained the reputation of living up to their name—open.
“The cases which we have revealed include one man who went on the run three years ago and phoned a Scottish newspaper to boast about his escape.
“Another, in for 10 years for drugs crime, has been absent for over a year.
“And in the last 12 months alone four are still at large who were originally jailed for crimes such as attempted murder and causing death by dangerous driving.
“By definition these are dangerous criminals. Once again, we urgently need a full probe into not just the lax regime at Castle Huntly and whether it is fit for purpose but whether those being sent there are fit to be there.
“In the few months which the minority SNP government has been in power they have made it abundantly clear that emptying our prisons has a higher priority than protecting the public.”
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